JERUSALEM—“Ariel Sharon would not have responded this strongly because he was so concerned with changing his image, and while Bibi would have done exactly the same thing as Olmert is, half of the country would have been protesting about what the ‘monster’ is doing,” explained former Israeli cabinet member and world-famous dissident Natan Sharansky.
Choosing his words as he stirred his breakfast shake, Sharanksy suggested that Prime Minister Ehud Olmert, with his center-left coalition, is perhaps the only leading figure capable of a muscular response to Hamas and Hezbollah that enjoys overwhelming public support. He seems almost relieved when he says, “This is a unique moment of unity.”
In this famously fractious political culture, achieving broad consensus is indeed rare. After the deeply divisive pullout from Gaza last year, it wasn’t clear if near-unanimity would ever be possible again. And as of a month ago, it was about to get worse. Until Hamas and Hezbollah declared war on the Jewish state, Olmert was preparing to plunge Israel into perhaps unparalleled political tumult with his proposed “convergence” plan, which called for a near-complete retreat from Judea and Samaria.
While the entire Israeli public besides the far left fringe appears supportive of Olmert’s military response, there seems to be increasing awareness that the seeds for the current mess were sown in the withdrawal from Lebanon in 2000 and the Gaza “disengagement.” Even many leading members of Olmert’s Kadima party agree that “convergence” is dead, at least for now.
Despite the right’s steadfast solidarity with Olmert, figures such as Sharansky and Netanyahu are not bashful about drawing the connection between repeated Israeli retreats and the brazen acts of Hamas and Hezbollah.
It seems obvious that Hamas kidnapped 19-year-old soldier Gilad Shalit because the terrorist organization believed Israel’s response would consist of little more than a small incursion followed by the release of Palestinian thugs and terrorists. Even though Olmert staked out a seemingly inflexible position that the Jewish state would “never” negotiate with terrorists, Hezbollah clearly believed it was calling Israel’s bluff by killing three soldiers and kidnapping two others.
Only Olmert wasn’t bluffing. Or at least, he realized that when Hezbollah forced his hand, he couldn’t afford to be exposed as having bluffed.
Ha’aretz today reports that Olmert’s reaction caught both Hezbollah and its Iranian puppetmasters off-guard. Money quote:
“Sheikh Hassan Nasrallah, secretary general of Hezbollah, assumed Israel’s response would be of the moderate sort like that following the withdrawal from Southern Lebanon in May 2000. Soon after the abduction, Hezbollah officers turned to (United Nations agency) UNIFIL and suggested a cease-fire as early as that evening. The Israeli response has come as a surprise to Hezbollah and Iranian advisers.”
So why did Hezbollah keep ratcheting up its deadly assaults if Israel’s robust response was completely unexpected? Simply put, to do otherwise would be to show weakness. Hezbollah has gained popularity with the storyline that its members are the only ones truly able to stand up to the Zionist enemy. Maximum retaliation was Hezbollah’s only real option.
Which raises the question most often heard inside Israel: How did Hezbollah acquire both such a large arsenal and such sophisticated weaponry? Rockets fired from southern Lebanon have been raining down in towns across northern Israel once thought to be beyond Hezbollah’s reach. Just as disconcerting, it appears that the Israeli ship hit off the coast of Lebanon was actually struck by an Iranian-made Silkworm missile.
Following Israel’s unilateral retreat from the buffer zone it had maintained in southern Lebanon, Hezbollah was finally free to stockpile a massive weapons cache. The Islamic terrorists had six years to husband their resources, growing ever stronger over time. And because of the help of the Iranian mullahs, neither cash nor instruments of death are in short supply.
Little wonder, then, that Sharansky describes the events of the past six years—from pulling out of Lebanon to Sharon’s prisoner exchange with Hezbollah in 2004 to the Gaza retreat—not as a “peace process,” but rather more aptly as a “war process.”
At this point in our conversation, a woman at the next table in the small bagel shop interrupted to let us know that at least nine people were dead in Haifa. While over an hour north of Tel Aviv, Haifa was never considered to be within range of Hezbollah.
Refusing to criticize Olmert for his current leadership, Sharansky only offered this note of caution: “I hope he’s not making one mistake, and that is planning for more weeks ahead. At most, he will have days.” Why, I asked him, will Israel only have days, especially if Hezbollah continues firing rockets into Israeli civilian areas? “Because of the world,” he answered. “At the moment Israel starts becoming successful, the world tells us to stop.”
If Sharansky is right and Israel is stopped before successfully disarming Hezbollah and pushing the terrorist organization off its border, then the world will have delivered a stunning victory to Islamic terrorists everywhere, especially the Iranian mullahs. Not only would this be a crushing blow to the Jewish state, but perhaps more significantly because of the long-term implications, to the United States.
Joel Mowbray, who got his start with Townhall.com, is an award-winning investigative journalist, nationally-syndicated columnist and author of Dangerous Diplomacy: How the State Department Threatens America's Security.
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